Archaeologists solve mystery of Silbury Hill (maybe)

It is one of England’s most mysterious monuments. Just a short walk from the massive stone circle complex of Avebury, Silbury Hill is a giant, flat-topped mound rising 120 feet above the surrounding countryside. Researchers have proposed dozens of theories over the years to explain its purpose, suggesting everything from a giant burial mound to a platform for religious music.

Now new research by English Heritage has revealed that Silbury Hill was constructed relatively quickly–in about hundred years–and finished around 2300 B.C. Previous researchers thought the mound took centuries to build. Archaeologists Jim Leary and David Field dug a cross-section tunnel into it in 2007 and found it was made up of 15 layers. The monument started as a circular ditch and embankment but soon grew into a giant hill. The researchers suggest that there was no final plan, no purpose. It was the building of it that mattered, the bringing together of various groups for the common purpose of a “continuous storytelling ritual”.

“Our Neolithic ancestors display an almost obsessive desire to constantly change the monument – to rearrange, tweak and adjust it. It’s as if the final form of the Hill did not matter – it was the construction process that was important,” Leary said.

“The most intriguing discovery is the repeated occurrence of antler picks, gravel, chalk and stones in different kinds of layering, in ways that suggest that these materials and their different combinations had symbolic meanings. We don’t know what myths they were representing but they must have meant something quite compelling and personal,” he said.

Leary and Field’s new book, The Story of Silbury Hill, explains their findings.

Of course archaeology isn’t a hard science, and this theory will be debated for years to come. Future excavations may refine or even overturn what Leary and Field have found. Silbury HIll hasn’t given up all its mysteries.